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They’ve got the power 

City Sage

Imagine that you're one of the power elite. You've lived in the Springs for decades; you've succeeded in business; you've served on important boards; you've contributed generously to local nonprofits.

Your politics are conservative — not crazy. You're fine with civil unions, you've never joined the NRA, you worship at a traditional church (if you worship at all!), and you enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

Of late, you've been thinking a lot about the election ... no, not that election.

You'll vote for Mitt Romney, of course, but you find all of the anti-Obama fervor mildly distasteful. Besides, your vote and your campaign contribution won't make much difference. If you're going to put serious money into a political campaign, you'll look at it as you would any other investment.

What's the ROI? How will this benefit me, my family, my friends, my community?

You don't need more money. You and your peers share a vision of what the community could become — and that's why you're focusing on the April 2013 city election, just eight months away.

As one of these normally reclusive power brokers explained to me, here's why: "We like Steve Bach," she said, "but we're not so sure about City Council."

She was dismayed when Council almost handed over Memorial Health System to a team led by Larry "Million Dollar" McEvoy.

Bach, in their view, has been a forceful, dynamic, even visionary leader while Council has been mulishly territorial and unresponsive to a larger vision of the future.

That vision — call it pro-business, conservative progressivism — is interestingly contradictory. Progressives would be delighted to see the Martin Drake Power Plant torn down. They'd love a revived downtown with more housing, more businesses, more young professionals, more of everything cool. Conservatives would like to see the city get out of the electric-generation business altogether, figure out a way to fund stormwater and other infrastructure needs without raising taxes, and curb city personnel costs.

Both agendas depend in part upon Colorado Springs Utilities. The city charter specifically empowers Council to serve as the Utilities board. We may have a strong-mayor system, but Bach has no power over our municipal utility. He's not even a member of the board. Without firm direction from Council, nothing can happen.

That direction has been skittish. Board members, guided only by the advice of senior Utilities employees, have been either compliant or capricious. Keep Drake, or not? Defer installation of the Neumann pollution abatement system, or go ahead? Investigate the possibility of electric divestiture? They can dither, but they can't act.

Six Council seats will be in play next April. Jan Martin, Val Snider and Merv Bennett will continue in their at-large seats until 2015. Scott Hente is term-limited, while Bernie Herpin, Lisa Czelatdko, Brandy Williams, Angela Dougan and Leigh may run for re-election.

But there's a catch. Thanks to voter-approved changes, the number of Council districts increases from four to six. Should they decide to run, district incumbents Dougan, Herpin and Czelatdko may face different political environments, while current at-large Councilors Leigh and Williams have to run in newly created districts. Williams and Herpin live in the same precinct. It's possible that Leigh and Czelatdko also could find themselves in the same district.

In such an environment, money and organization may count as much as name recognition — and that creates opportunity for power brokers. You meet quietly with certain incumbents and lay your cards on the table.

"We think you should cooperate with Mayor Bach," you suggest, "and support his call for a full appraisal of Utilities. If you don't, we'll make sure that your seat is vigorously contested by a thoughtful, well-financed conservative. We mean business — this isn't Doug Bruce putting up a bunch of stiffs!"

If there were any such meetings, expect that City Council will quietly take such action at its next meeting as the utility board.

No threats here, Councilors. This is a friendly game ... but the power brokers are holding four aces, so you'd best fold.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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